“The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor” headlines 2015 Austin Asian American Film Festival

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The Austin Asian American Film Festival (AAAFF) announced Thursday the full film lineup for the fest which runs Nov. 12 to Nov. 15 at The Marchesa Hall & Theatre.

cropped-Banner-urlThe fest includes 12 documentary and narrative features and 12 short films, a K-Pop opening night party and an Asian-American comedy showcase, a filmmakers’ brunch, a badgeholder social and a closing night party.

This year’s headliner is “The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor” which examines the life and legacy of Oscar winner Dr. Haing S. Ngor, one of the most well-known and outspoken survivors of the Cambodian genocide. In 1996, Ngor was murdered in a Los Angeles Chinatown alley in 199 at the age of 55.

Additional films include: “The Chinese Mayor,” winner of a special Sundance jury award for “unprecedented access”; indie dramedy “The Purple Onion” with star and co-writer Edwin Li in attendance; coming-of-age romantic comedy “Seoul Searching” with lead stars Jessika Van and Justin Chon in attendance; “Top Spin” with filmmakers Sara Newens and Mina Son in attendance; “La Salada,” winner of the Films in Progress Prize at the San Sebastian Film Festival; “Placebo,” jury award winner at the EBS International Documentary Festival; and Ali Ahmadzade’s surrealist feature “Atomic Heart.”

All films will be screened at The Marchesa Hall & Theatre, 6226 Middle Fiskville Rd. Austin TX 78752. Individual tickets ($10), film passes ($45), and festival badges ($65) are currently on-sale. Please check www.aaafilmfest.com/attend for details or emailinfo@aaafilmfest.com.

Here is the complete lineup.

 

NOVEMBER 12

SEOUL SEARCHING

Country: US/S. Korea

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Director: Benson Lee

Synopsis: Korean American filmmaker Benson Lee’s tribute to ‘80’s John Hughes romantic comedies, “Seoul Searching” is about a group of Korean teens from around the globe who meet at a government-run summer camp for foreign born kids. With a stellar ensemble cast led by Justin Chon (“Revenge of the Green Dragons”, AAAFF ’14, “Twilight”) and Jessika Van (“Awkward”), the story follows these teens as they break rules and compete to impress members of the opposite sex. As they navigate what it means to be Korean through unexpected friendships and experiences, they also start to learn more about themselves. With “Seoul Searching”, Lee combines the iconic coming-of-age storytelling of The Breakfast Club with an earnest portrayal of the Korean diasporic experience, all set to a rockin’ 80’s soundtrack.

 

NOVEMBER 13

LA SALADA

Country: Argentina

Genre: Drama

Director: Juán Martín Hsu

Synopsis: Three interleaving stories shed light on an unfamiliar face of the Asian diaspora — an enormous informal marketplace in Buenos Aires that draws migrants from throughout the world. As a Korean businessman frets over his daughter’s pending nuptials, a Bolivian teenager and his uncle cross the border illegally searching for work, and a Taiwanese clerk woos a security guard at the market in between late night calls home to his worried mother. Lyrical but measured, Juán Martín Hsu’s debut feature is a uniquely polyglot film, with significant amounts of dialogue in Korean, Mandarin, and Spanish. It’s fitting— like its characters, “La Salada” finds itself connected to many cultures but not bound to any one of them.

 

THE CHINESE MAYOR

Country: China

Genre: Documentary

Director: Zhou Hao

Synopsis: The city of Datong in Shanxi province was once the illustrious capital of one of China’s imperial kingdoms. Today, it is a coal-mining city and one of the most heavily polluted, but mayor Geng Yanbo has a plan: He wants to restore the ancient city walls and transform the city into a cultural destination. Unfortunately, this requires the relocation of over 500,000 of the city’s residents, and many are refusing to move. As the project runs behind schedule and threatens to financially destroy Datong, can Geng’s ruthlessly uncompromising approach succeed? Just as Geng himself is often harshly critical, “The Chinese Mayor” allows the audience a remarkably balanced, revelatory look inside modern Chinese governance and provides an astute and intimate portrait of a leader striving to achieve a lofty goal despite the potential costs.

 

RUINED HEART

Country: Philippines

Genre: “Punk Rock Opera”

Director: Khavn De La Cruz

Synopsis: Like a long-ago late night out with a wild friend, “Ruined Heart” situates itself squarely in the realm between dream and reality. There is no dialogue of any consequence, and the plot doesn’t get much more complex than the title suggests, but the mix of hypnotic imagery and lush soundtrack will leave you dizzy with awe. The film is a showcase for the talents of a distinguished international cast and crew: stars Tadanobu Asano (“Ichi the Killer”) and Nathalia Acevedo (“Post Tenebras Lux”), composer Brezel Goring (of Stereo Total), and legendary cinematographer Christopher Doyle. At the center of it all is director Khavn (the subject of a 2007 AAAFF mini-retrospective). Relentlessly experimental and impressively prolific, his work is sometimes uncomfortable, frequently graphic, and always unabashedly unconventional.

 

 NOVEMBER 14

TOP SPIN

Country: US

Genre: Documentary

Director: Sara Newens, Mina T. Son

Synopsis: Mina T. Son and Sara Newens’ electric feature debut thrusts its viewers into the fast-paced world of competitive table tennis. Entertaining and insightful, “Top Spin” highlights the dedication, passion, and sacrifice of top U.S. players Ariel Hsing, Lily Zhang, and Michael Landers as they compete to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics. Along the way, we’re invited to follow the triumphs and failures of these young athletes inside the stadiums and out, all before they finish high school.

 

PARADISE IN SERVICE

Country: Taiwan

Genre: Historical Drama

Director: Doze Niu

Synopsis: Set in the late 1960’s on the military island Kinmen, often seen as Taiwan’s most dangerous outpost because of its close proximity to China, “Paradise in Service” tells the story of Pao (Ethan Juan), a naïve but kind hearted young man from Taiwan who is drafted and eventually assigned to a unit in charge of a military-run brothel. In this peculiar assignment, Pao vows to keep his virginity against all odds. The third collaboration between director Doze Niu and lead actor Ethan Juan (“Monga”, “LOVE”), the film interweaves Pao’s main romantic storyline with rich subplots, one of which revolves around the Sergeant Major Chang (Chen Jian Bin), an illiterate Northerner who carries a tough exterior but heartbreakingly yearns for his home in China that remains tragically out of reach. This complex emotional depth and cultural divide between older Kuomintang (KMT) military men from China and younger Taiwanese soldiers makes PARADISE IN SERVICE a love in wartime drama that is uniquely Taiwanese.

 

THE KILLING FIELDS OF DR. HAING S. NGOR

Country: US/Cambodia

Genre: Documentary

Director: Arthur Dong

Synopsis: Set against the backdrop of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge reign of terror, “The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor” chronicles this horrific period through the eyes of Dr. Ngor, a surgeon and gynecologist who would lose his wife and unborn child in a concentration camp as part of the regime’s “Year Zero” social experiment. Ngor survives and eventually escapes to America, where he would channel that experience to deliver an emotional performance as an actor in “The Killing Fields” (1984), winning an Oscar® for Best Supporting Actor in his first film. Using his newfound celebrity as a platform for activism, Ngor would become a worldwide ambassador for truth and justice in his homeland until his untimely death in 1996. Through an inspired blend of original animation, rare archival material, and text from Ngor’s autobiography, veteran documentarian Arthur Dong (“Hollywood Chinese”, AAAFF ’08) shines a new light on the life and legacy of one of the most well known and outspoken survivors of the Cambodian genocide.

 

THE PURPLE ONION

Country: US

Genre: Dramedy

Director: Matt Szymanowski

Synopsis: Well intentioned but terminally lonely, Johnny (Edwin Li, also co-writer) toils as a dishwasher while pursuing dreams of being a stand-up comic. Success is elusive, and his life is complicated by the arrival of Jeanie (Noreen Lee), a family friend (or perhaps a distant relative), down on her luck and needing a place to crash. Johnny and Jeanie’s searches for purpose in their lives leads them through a world of eccentrics, confirming that, despite reports to the contrary, not all the weirdos have been priced out of San Francisco. Matt Szymanowski’s feature debut takes the audience to some unexpected and occasionally uncomfortable places, but never loses touch with its characters’ humanity.

 

NOVEMBER 15

GIOVANNI’S ISLAND

Country: Japan

Genre: Animation

Director: Mizuho Nishikubo

Synopsis: At the end of World War II, the small Japanese island of Shikotan became a part of the Sakhalin Oblast, a federal subject of Russia. “Giovanni’s Island” follows two young boys, Junpei and Kanta, as they befriend the Russian girl whose family takes over their house. Like “Grave of the Fireflies”, “Giovanni’s Island” is a beautiful, heartbreaking drama about two kids who are forced to grow up too soon amidst war and conflict beyond their control. With an exquisite animation style and moving storyline, director Mizuho Nishikubo has crafted a rich, emotional experience that earns “Giovanni’s Island” a place amongst the greatest war dramas, animated or otherwise

 

JALANAN

Country: Indonesia

Genre: Documentary

Director: Daniel Ziv

Synopsis: “Jalanan” (‘Streetside’) tells the captivating story of Boni, Ho & Titi, three gifted, charismatic street musicians in Jakarta over a tumultuous 5-year period in their own lives and that of Indonesia. The film follows the young marginalized musicians and their never-before-seen sub-culture, while also painting a striking, moody and intimate portrait of Indonesia’s frenzied capital city. Using the powerful soundtrack of the musicians’ original compositions to drive the film, it traces their elusive quest for identity and love in the day-to-day of a city overrun by the effects of globalization and corruption.

 

PLACEBO

Country: India

Genre: Documentary

Director: Abhay Kumar

Synopsis: After his brother seriously injures himself by putting his fist through a plate glass window, filmmaker Abhay Kumar seeks to excavate the source behind an escalating pattern of violence and aggression at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi, India’s most prestigious and competitive medical college. Armed with a handycam, he situates himself amidst the wearied walls and hallways of the dormitory and observes the lives of 4 students over the course of a year. Watching “Placebo” will remind many viewers of their own student days–acquiring knowledge, grasping for connection, disillusionment, seeking a role in life. There are philosophical discussions and profound discoveries reached in late-night sleep-deprived delirium, intercut with moments of intimate confession that slowly reveal a haunting window into these gifted young minds. Deeply affecting and brutally honest, “Placebo” dramatically confronts difficult issues such as hazing, discrimination, and depression that too often plagues the pursuit of prestige.

 

ATOMIC HEART

Country: Iran

Genre: Drama

Director: Ali Ahmadzade

Synopsis: “Atomic Heart” follows two late twenty-something party girls Arineh and Nobahar, who wear jewel-colored headscarves to cover their brightly dyed hair. After a night of chewing on gummies and discussing who invented the western toilet with their hipster friend Kami, they find themselves in a traffic accident that introduces them to a mysterious stranger who believes he is not of this world. Inventively choreographed and filled with witty philosophical banter, Ali Ahmadzadeh’s surreal, multi-layered second feature portrays a side of modern-day Tehran that’s rarely seen and marks Ahmadzadeh as a major new talent in Iranian cinema.


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